Erwin Olaf: No Relation to St. Olaf, Rose From the Golden Girls’ Hometown

Holidayitis struck our household this weekend, stealing my motivation and rock hard self-discipline like a thief in the night. Or maybe it’s just this damn cold I can’t get out from under. Either way, I’m not feeling up to my usual chipper/snarky Jekyll and Hyde routine, so I’m going to attempt some distraction tactics. Namely: look at the pretty pictures and find yourself so bedazzled by eye candy that the thin content and writing for this post completely escapes your attention. Sound like a plan? Let’s do it.

If you’ve never seen the photographs of Erwin Olaf, let’s just say that he’s like David Lachapelle, Pierre et Gilles and Desiree Dolron all rolled into one nifty little package. Does that help? Check out some images from one of his earlier series, Hope.

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

All the careful lighting, set staging and posing of the models leads to a feeling of aloofness, of disconnectedness. It’s as if the entire human emotional experience is learned rather than innate. Instead of displaying vulnerabilty, Olaf’s subjects manifest emotion as an icy, carefully constructed veneer of downcast eyes that stand in for real feeling.

His series Rain displays a similar lack of sentiment in sentimental situations. All the subjects exude a mannequin-like blankness that belies the context of the situations they appear in:

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

Naturally I saved the best of last. Olaf’s series Grief again deals with the flattened complexities of the human range of experience, but set against the most fabulous backdrops that any decor junkie would kill for.

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

erwin olaf

Is it odd that the beauty of each shot is heartbreaking while the subjects’ playacted emotions leave one cold, or was that Olaf’s intention all along?

I find meaning in these images when pondering the tight control and scripted nature of public emotion in Western culture. Monumental events are ritualized and sanitized for your protection, leading either to private breakdowns or an unshakeable numbness.

Olaf’s photographs are a reminder to think and feel with authenticity. Something to remember during the holiday season.

Stay tuned for another post on photography later today that I promise will be day to the night of Erwin Olaf’s work. It’s all about contrast.